Thursday, July 14, 2011

How the News Media Caters to Dummies

Three stories yesterday got me aroused about the media. The first was the story that the guy who caught Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit was gong to have to pay taxes on what he had received in exchange for the ball. MSNBC acted like this was an outrage, and invited comment, in an obvious attempt to stir up controversy where no real controversy existed.

Since when is it news that we have an income tax in this country? The 16th amendment has been around almost 100 years, and surely is no longer news! And any dummy surely knows that you cannot legally avoid income tax by taking payment in goods and services rather than in money. Shame on MSNBC, specifically Tamron Hall on Newsnation, for stirring up this non-issue.

No sooner had I got back from going to the library to respond to this issue, then I saw Cafferty on CNN bring up a news item about a restaurant banning kids under 6. Again, he asked for comment and seemed to be stirring up an issue where no real issue existed. CNN could have taken the opportunity to educate viewers about the difference between legal and non-legal discrimination, but instead they took the low road. Any restaurant has an absolute right to do this, there is no issue here.

On the third issue the media did better. There was a news item yesterday about obese children being taken away from their parents. On the face of it this sounds like it might be worthy of discussion, but the news report I saw did a commendable job in enlightening viewers that it was only extremely obese children whose lives were in danger that were involved, and the foster care was temporary, with no permanent severance of parental rights taking place.

But with millions of dollars being paid these high-priced anchors, many of whom have law degrees, one out of three is not good enough!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Casey Anthony Verdict

After saturation coverage of the Casey Anthony trial for the past several months, the verdict came down yesterday, after less than 11 hours of deliberations. Several aspects of this case merit commentary.

First, it was announced 35 minutes ahead of time that a verdict was forthcoming, and I knew immediately that such a quick verdict meant it must be not guilty. Why, then, did all the commentators overlook this obvious fact? The rule of thumb is that a quick verdict is good for the prosecution. However, that is in a case, which most are, that is strong for the prosecution. Lack of prolonged deliberations indicates no juror had problems, hence a quick verdict results. However, this case was just the opposite. Here the prosecution had a laughably weak case, so here a quick verdict had to mean the prosecution's case was summarily rejected. All the so-called expert commentators seemed to be surprised at the verdict; nobody seemed to realize what was obvious to me. Amazing.

Another point worth mentioning is Casey's defense attorney, Jose Baez, who took a lot of verbal abuse for his perceived ineptness in handling the case. Jose showed that in the end it is the facts that determine the outcome, not the skill of the lawyers, as the general public so often mistakenly believes. Jose worked his butt off and can justifiably be proud of the job he did. Jose, you gave your all. Well done!

Another point is the use of what has been called "junk science". Barry Scheck and his colleagues at the Innocence Project have written a great book, "Actual Innocence: When Justice Goes Wrong and How to Make it Right", in which they document the various reasons innocent people get convicted. One of those reasons is the use of what he calls "junk science". These are people who purport to be "experts" and testify about something which is not accepted in the scientific community as valid. In the Anthony case, the junk science was taking a sample of air from the trunk of the Anthony car, and supposedly analyzing it and coming to the conclusion that a dead body had been in there. This, if you'll pardon the pun, doesn't pass the smell test. It is ludicrous on the face of it. The defense expert refuted this, but it is hard for a jury to sort out this contradictory testimony, and the Anthony jury is to be praised for having the guts to do it. This type of testimony had never before been used in a criminal trial, and shouldn't have been allowed here.

Another example of junk science from American history is the Lindbergh baby kidnapping case. In his book, "The Airman and the Carpenter: The Lindbergh Kidnapping and the Framing of Richard Hauptmann", the author discussed the so-called expert who testified that the wood from the ladder used to take the baby was made from wood taken from the attic of Hauptmann's house. That anybody would make a ladder from wood in his attic, dismantling beams in the attic to do so, is ludicrous on the face of it, and the analysis purporting to establish this has been shown to be completely bogus. Yet, this "expert" was allowed to testify and Hauptmann went to the electric chair as a result.

As a side note, Hauptmann had the chance to save his life by confessing, which he steadfastly refused to do. I think this sort of situation explains why so many innocent people get convicted and put onto death row. The guilty tend to accept plea bargains to save their lives, while the not guilty tend to refuse to plea bargain, and and as a result they often receive a  death sentence.